David was a pleasant sort who obviously had been prepped to tell me details of the mansion, which turned out to be just outside of the city. When asked, he informed me that he had worked for Ms. Jones over 5 years now, and then that I was to refer to her familiarly as Amy. This was due to Michelle being so worried about meeting someone new that her mother claimed I was a dear friend’s son who had visited once years ago. As David explained details about the staff, mansion layout, and a brief history of the family, I studied a map of the grounds, looked over pictures of people whom I should know, and tried to workout my persona in my head.
Ms. Jones was my employer, so I, therefore, was her best friend for the day. One of the strangest notions about friendship was that a friend should be willing to create deceptions on a friend’s behalf. Part of me wanted to call Regina for tips, since she obviously was the master at this sort of thing. I refrained, imagining how that would turn out and attempting to soak in everything David was telling me. I also made a mental note to create a disclaimer for my website stating that variations to the plan should be declared at least twenty-four hours in advance or risk doubled rates even though, I admitted to myself, there truly was a sense of excitement to this idea of creating a new persona for myself in a car ride.
The most important aspect of this job was keeping Michelle happy. No matter how dazzling or boring she might be, I needed to keep focus and make certain that she truly was having a good time instead of just putting on a good face for guests, including myself. I never had been the type to try charming anyone, but the idea seemed similar enough to being a good host. People needed to feel comfortable, to know that you would sincerely listen, and to remain entertained. Father always said that a person naturally felt more comfortable around someone who could confidently demonstrate one’s own weakness, such as by telling an embarrassing moment in an anecdote. I considered what mishap I could willingly divulge as we drove down the drive.
I decided the word “mansion” truly wasn’t an exaggeration when the two-story, sprawling building came into view. There was even a stone canopy held up by columns to allow some protection from the elements while exiting vehicles. “Thank you, David. You’ve been extremely helpful.” He smiled from the door he was holding as I stepped out. “Good luck in there, James.” I took a deep breath and let it out slowly as I walked to the doorway. The various facts crammed into my head were at risk of leaking out, but I diligently recited them silently to myself as I approached.
Someone serving as a doorman gave me directions through the building, so I could meet with the other guests in the yard beyond, though the path was obvious with festive decorations adorning the halls. The walk through the house was a tour of Michelle’s life up to this point, showing her first walk, cello lessons, and numerous other activities. The girl was far from beautiful, having a pinched face and and a thin, pouting mouth. Even in the pictures where she smiled, there was nothing about her face that denoted any true joy. I allowed myself a moments doubt about the possibility of success today before shoving any thoughts of failure firmly away. One way or another, I needed to bring some measure of joy to Michelle on this day, her day.
Upon exiting the building, I was offered a drink and shown a place to set gifts, though I kept the small package as a bulge in my pocket instead. Most of the crowd was on a slightly raised, wooden platform which was painted white and decorated with white and pink ribbons strung between white posts. I found the design more befitting a wedding myself, but I admitted a certain elegance in the effect. There were numerous greetings from the adults as I passed through the crowd, feeling slightly overdressed in a tuxedo when most men wore fine suits instead. “James, dear boy! Come here and give me a hug.” I smiled, exclaiming “Amy” as I embraced her warmly with one arm and kept my drink safely held apart.
“I trust you are well. It is good to see you, and might I say you’ve grown into quite the handsome man.” I gave her a smile and replied, “You are sweet as ever, but might I inquire where your daughter is hiding?” This woman’s smile was chilling with the coldness in her eyes. “Of course, she is just over there with her friends from school. I’m certain that she’ll be delighted to see you.” I begged my leave and preceded toward a group of girls near the edge of the platform who were giggling and conversing amongst themselves. As I grew closer, I noticed Michelle, sitting slightly apart and behind the rest. She looked completely alone next to her so-called friends.
The group hushed as several members took notice of my approach. I passed them with every eye upon me as I knelt down and kissed Michelle’s hand, obviously taking her aback slightly. “Happy Birthday. I do hope you forgive my boldness, but Amy kindly said that I might accompany you tonight. I’m James, by the way. Her friend’s son.” A small smile joined the slight pinkening of her cheeks as I stood and guided her to do the same. Her mouth opened as if to respond but nothing came out, due to one of her “friends” blurting out, “I didn’t know you had a date tonight, Michelle.” Ignoring the comment, I told Michelle, “I hope you are enjoying the party. Your dress is truly lovely.” She wore a strapless dress of a pale pink with dark pink accents on the bodice. The skirt portion consisted of numerous layers of a sheer, pink fabric spreading down to her ankles. A thick ribbon wrapped around the skirt and and joined under a large flower.
I took my time admiring Michelle’s attire, knowing that the nearby girls were watching me do so and joining me in it. Several of them offered their own compliments as well. Seeing the one who interrupted earlier, Patricia if I remembered correctly from the picture, opening her mouth, I quickly interjected, “Would you mind sharing the plan for today, Michelle? I’m afraid Amy didn’t have a chance with my haste to find you.” The girl slowly started to explain that we would be having lunch soon followed by a treasure hunt. She was very quiet, seeming as if she rarely used her voice at all with various hesitations strewn throughout her speech as she continued on about having cake and opening the presents after the hunt. Then attending a play, having dinner, and finally going to the dance.
Several of the girls looked excited at the prospect of a treasure hunt, at least until Patricia rested her hand on my arm and said, “Doesn’t that sound like far too much running about after eating?” I calmly brushed off her hand as I replied, “Actually, I quite look forward to it. I haven’t gone on a treasure hunt in quite some time, save to figure out where anything is in my room.” Michelle, who had been looking hurt at Patricia’s statement, bore another of her small smiles after my false confession. Patricia rolled her eyes with tremendous exaggeration, saying, “You sound as bad as my brothers, but let’s see if you can beat me in the hunt. This could be fun.”
Lunch was a far more reasonable affair than I would have guessed. A variety of cold cut sandwiches were brought around with soups, salad, and fruit on request. I continued prompting Michelle to speak throughout the meal while managing to keep Patricia from stealing the show. Even if everything Jarod said about Regina was proven true, she still was far more polite than this Patricia girl seemed to be. I attempted to keep too many thoughts of other girls out of my head as I did my best to keep Michelle appearing in the best light. She lacked any aptitude at controlling a conversation, and didn’t understand the elaboration needed to keep the attention of an audience. I did manage to keep a smile of sorts on her face and a twinkle in her eye though.
When our plates were removed, we each found a a clue for the treasure hunt awaiting us where the plate had been. Then the game began as people split off in search of their next clue. I accompanied Michelle and her younger sister, Ellen. The sister was apparently twelve, but far taller than Aaliyah and not nearly so childlike. She acted far more mature than Aaliyah, which made the girl I babysat much more of an enigma to me. Why was she so tiny and childlike? I helped Michelle and Ellen with their clues as I figured out my own, not feeling the person who created them was particularly clever. The three of us managed to win the game with a rather annoyed-looking Patricia coming in fourth. The “treasure” was our tickets for the play tonight along with a token from the party for each guest. I received a silver, engraved money clip.
Michelle’s treasure was a gift from her mother and apparently her first gift of the day, a platinum ring with a large, pink sapphire set in the midst of smaller sapphires. Back at the tables, a very large, three-tier cake was waiting which did well in further demonstrating Michelle’s love of pink. A single candle was lit on a small slice for Michelle, and the cake was taken away to be divided after she blew it out. During the interim, she opened her presents from guests thanking each person as she went, though her voice did not carry and a general chatter arose partway through. When she thought she had finished, I raised a toast to her, wishing this poor girl the best day of her life to date. Then I announced a final gift for her to unwrap and pulled the package from my pocket. As I had surmised, there was jewelry inside the silver package, a white choker supporting what I guessed was another pink sapphire which matched the ring from her mother. I then placed the choker around her neck at her request as she gave her first true smile that I witnessed.
After the general commotion, Ms. Jones announced that limousines were waiting to take us all to the play. I joined her, Michelle, Ellen, and a few of Michelle’s so-called friends in David’s as the others piled into the rest of the limos. Once again, Patricia was attempting to soak up all of the attention. To my chagrin, Ms. Jones openly displayed favoritism to Patricia over her own daughter, commenting about how she only wished Michelle would take after her more. “I would never dream of questioning your taste, but I must observe that shy, modest girls often make far better company than ones who try expressing their quality through the belittlement of others.” My remark was greeted with a sniff from Ms. Jones and silence for the remainder of the trip, but Michelle and Ellen both wore smiles the entire way.
The play passed by all too quickly, since I wasn’t looking forward to another meal in the presence of this group. I felt sorry for Michelle and Ellen for having such a mother. Dinner could have been worse, but Ms. Jones and Patricia managed to keep their unfriendly remarks to a minimum. The food was very pleasant in the restaurant which had been reserved for the group’s express use. Michelle confided in me that the party’s design wasn’t truly her choice. She had a great love for Jane Austen, and wanted her party to be themed to Pride and Prejudice. Ms. Jones didn’t care for the idea and arranged for what we had instead. Michelle told me that she truly was having a splendid time though, so I was satisfied by the glee in her eyes that today wasn’t a failure thus far. There was just the dance left for us to survive.